By Rabbi Label Lam
Moshe wrote their goings forth to their journeys at the bidding of HASHEM,
and these were their journeys to their goings forth. (Bamidbar 33:2)
Initially Moshe is writing about “their goings forth to their journeys” and
in the latter section he introduces “their journeys to their goings forth”.
What is the difference between these two terms? Why is it that the
beginning half of the verse is “at the bidding of HASHEM”? Is the second
category not “at the bidding of HASHEM”? Are they two different travel logs?
The Kli Yakar explains that there were in fact two distinct styles of travel
that occupied the Jewish People during their 40 years in the dessert. One
was “their goings forth to their journeys”. This describes those moves that
were made in perfect concert with HASHEM’s supernal guidance, without
deviation. The prime example of this was the initial exodus from Egypt,
which was a going forth- a launching onto a new and prosperous path. Those
beginnings were successful in that they were done “at the bidding of
HASHEM”. They made real steps and achieved lasting progress in pursuit of
the “A plan” which was to leave Egypt, make a brief stop at Mount Sinai to
pick up the Torah on the way into the Holy Land. What went so terribly
wrong? Why is this historical review happening after 40 long years?
This brings us to the second category which is “their journeys to their
goings forth”. With these moves they reverted backwards, even looking
nostalgically at times o the good old days of Egypt. These backslidings were
obviously not “at the bidding of HASHEM”. Although they were fewer in number
than the positive strides, they were still costly in terms of time and
entire lives. Each deviant step and episode of complaining created a
different type of detour that ultimately set a whole generation back. As a
result a nation’s highest hopes and aspirations were thereby frustrated and
they were laid to rest in the wilderness?
When looking retrospectively at the paths our lives, we might discern two
types of streets, like the two trees spoken of in the Garden of Eden. One is
a clearly mapped out and well lit. It is “the tree of life”- the Torah. The
other is “the tree of the confusion of good and bad”. It is temptingly
exciting and packed with experiences, both good and bad. It’s sometimes
called the school of hard knocks. The tuition is initially free but the bill
in the end, like most “pay later plans” is exceedingly high.
Within the first few months of marriage our car broke down and we needed a
replacement, nothing fancy. My wife and I found our way to a kindly old man
who showed us a ten year old car with less than 50,000 miles. It seemed in
good enough shape. Before going deep pocket to purchase it, I decided to
consult my Rebbe. He asked me point blank, “Did you drive it?” I told him,
“No! The man could not allow it because it didn’t have the right paper-work
but he drove it around for us and it felt fine!” The Rebbe told me, “If he
didn’t let you drive it, don’t buy it! Something’s wrong! I have an explicit
Rashi in Chumash that says “watch out!”
So I bought the car anyway. Everything seemed OK that is until I started to
drive it home. On that maiden voyage in the new car I noticed first of all
that it didn’t handle so well. It felt older than the mileage, so I looked
at odometer just to check and I noticed something remarkable. The numbers
were rolling backwards. The car was getting younger! Amazing! It became
obvious through closer inspection that the glass cover had been removed and
the odometer had been tampered with, which is a federal crime. I went back
to my Rebbe to ask him what I was to do. I’ll never forget that incredulous
look and tone. “You bought the car!?” He told me to write it off as
“Rebbishe Gelt” -money spent on learning a serious life lesson. Eventually,
I did get the money back but not without aggravation. It was a lot of money
for newlyweds to lose but with the benefit of hindsight, it was a fairly
cheap course in following instructions!
DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.